- Heidi Beedle
- Joe Cherry, left, Dave Grimm and Nick Pryor of Springs band Still Valley.
In the basement of L.W. Blanton Studios, behind a door spray-painted "the space formerly known as the Flux," Colorado Springs trio Still Valley prepares for practice. While drummer Dave Grimm sets up his kit, guitarist Nick Pryor plays a series of lilting arpeggios at half volume, and bassist Joe Cherry offers up a hypnotic, fluid minor-key run. Once the drums are set up, the amplifiers are brought up to full volume in a roar of fuzzed-out glory.
Still Valley plays a brand of heavy metal that goes by a number of dubious nicknames. Doom, sludge, drone and stoner metal all describe a subgenre of metal known for slow, distortion-drenched riffs, plodding bass lines, and tom-heavy drum fills. Most modern stoner metal bands have a sound that would mesh well with '70s-era Sabbath. While the lyrics usually don't break any new ground — Satan, dragons, weed — they are dependable. Stoner metal fills the void left in human consciousness by the decline in popularity of Gregorian chants and peyote ceremonies. It is music to accompany ritual, and Colorado's legalization of marijuana provides ample opportunity for ritual.
Stoner metal, as the name would imply, is often associated with marijuana use. The band Sleep allegedly blew their entire budget on weed when they recorded the album Jerusalem, and bands with names like Bongripper, Bongzilla and Weedeater play on that theme too. While Still Valley has certainly taken advantage of the subgenre's popular image, playing the 2015 Cannabis Cup, they are wary of the term "stoner" metal.
"You automatically think because everyone is in this slow heavy band they all do drugs," says Cherry. "It's a double-edged sword. You want people to know what kind of music it is, but you don't want to alienate people with the label you take."
The band defines themselves as "just a heavy metal band," and Grimm even suggests they are more of "a heavy indie-rock band." Unlike many prototypical stoner metal bands, Still Valley takes some sonic risks with songs featuring chime-y, almost emo arpeggios that rise to a roaring crescendo of power chords and distortion, like if Explosions in the Sky! got really into Motörhead.
In much the way that stoner metal is a nod to bands of the 1970s, the Colorado Springs scene pays homage to the DIY ethic of the '70s as well. Still Valley took a unique approach to their album, Mirum Oritorium. "Our physical album, which includes a download code, of course, is vinyl," explains Cherry. "We wanted to put out these rad vinyl albums with these crazy, random colors, and a ton of different artists pitched in to design covers." Each physical copy of their album is unique, from the colored vinyl to the one-of-a-kind covers designed by local artists and members of the Colorado Springs music scene, including Stephanie Byrne of Cheap Perfume and Pete Sisson of Shiii Whaaa.
The sense of artistry and craft also extends to the band's equipment. Guitarist Nick Pryor started his own business, Pryor Cabs, after joining Still Valley. Both he and Cherry play through a stack of artisanal, stained-wood speaker cabinets that he made himself.
"Stoner" label aside, Still Valley has carved a niche for themselves in Colorado's heavy music scene, playing festivals like Seven-One-Grind and Denver Doomfest, and forming relationships with local heavy bands like Blighter, the Munsens and Denver's In the Company of Serpents. While it may be tempting to write off stoner metal as a subgenre solely for marijuana enthusiasts, for Cherry, the draw of stoner metal is in the community it attracts.
Cherry notes that "When I started this band it was just a way to see other bands, really." That sense of community was in part fostered by the late DIY music space The Flux Capacitor, which hosted a number of shows by Still Valley and other heavy bands from Colorado Springs.
Still Valley is playing at the Triple Nickel Tavern, 26 S. Wahsatch Ave., on May 25 with North Carolina's Toke. You can listen to their album Mirum Oritorium at stillvalley.bandcamp.com.